Africa was once seen as an El Dorado – a gold-encrusted continent of hope and prosperity, where the ancient civilisations of the Phoenicians and the Egyptians might have survived intact.
The African Association, the world’s first geographical society, set itself the task of revealing the mysteries of the interior of Africa. Founded in 1788 by a group of London-based gentlemen, made famous by the amazing exploits of its adventurers, for forty-three years it was engaged in a quest for geographical knowledge, personal glory, immense wealth and the fulfilment of national ambitions.
There are two strands to the narrative. First there are the people who planned and paid for expeditions, the geographers, scholars, politicians, humanitarian activists and sharp-eyed traders, the richest commoner in England and two former prime ministers among them. Theirs is a lively tale of tavern meetings, court lobbying and salon intrigue during one of the most dramatic periods of world history.
Then there are the adventurers, a mixed group of ex-cons and social outcasts – British, French, Germans and Americans among them – who went to the magical continent in search of glory and the unknown. They included Mungo Park, whose account of his travels was a bestseller for more than a century, and Jean Louis Burckhardt, discoverer of Petra and Abu Simbel. Each of their journeys was extraordinary, packed with drama and excitement, made notable by geographical discoveries and, with very few exceptions, ending in death.
An outstanding account of a unique period characterised by the passion, ambition, courage and sheer sense of adventure of its participants.
Reviews of The Gates of Africa
‘Enthralling. One of the most fascinating accounts of exploration that I’ve read in a long time.’ Jim Blackburn, Wanderlust
‘In “The Gates of Africa”, Anthony Sattin has excelled himself’.’ Conde Nast Traveller
‘Absorbing, highly readable and in places ironically humorous, a well-rounded and definitive study.’ Martin Booth, Sunday Times
‘An extraordinary panorama of adventure, scholarship, intellectual enterprise and ideological conviction, enlivened by frequent splashes of eccentricity and beautifully written throughout.’ Jan Morris